San Rafael exhibitor hopes to raise consciousness at Fair

Jeff Allen believes that the market for holograms is now at the stage the computer market was in the early '70s.

There are now a half-billion Visa and Mastercards with holograms on them. National Geographic has produced three holographic covers. Garden-variety holograms decorate cereal boxes and greeting cards. The U.S. Postal Service is putting out holographic stamps. Soon, all Australian bills from $5 and up will have holograms on them. He says the market for holograms is increasing 50 percent a year.

The future isn't coming fast enough for Allen, a former rock promoter who now makes his living as a holographic inventor, consultant and publicist. He's bringing his personal collection of holograms down from San Rafael to the Fair for a reason. He exposes people to holography, he said, "to speed reaction from the public, and to elevate the mass consciousness."

This year, he figures more than a million will have their consciousness raised at his exhibit. The only problem is that many people are taking the present advances for granted.

"A lot of the holograms look so perfect, people don't take that to the level they could," Allen said.

"There are different types from different parts of the world. Some of them are state of the art. They're all my most popular pieces, and also some of the ones I had at the Fair in '85. One is a microscope that sticks out 2 feet in space. Almost everybody puts their hands through it. Some people try to focus it. It's convincingly solid."

If you look through the microscope, you see a 100x magnification of a computer chip.

"I'll have some holographic movies there. Mutli-stero holography interfaces with film, video, and computers."

Allen worked with Peter Sparrow, a set designer for the Motley Crue "Dr. Feelgood" video, on a holographic film "To Wish or not to Wish," in which a scantily clad girl conjures up a genie. He did it on a $10,000 to $15,000 budget.

Allen's consciousness was first raised in 1970, when he saw his first hologram at San Francisco's Exploratorium. As he gazed in wonder at the image of a pen floating 2 inches in the air, he knew he was looking into the future, and he wanted badly to be a pioneer. Now Exploratorium sells holographs in its gift store more advanced than those it has on display.

Allen hooked up with Mike Foster, an underground inventor and trained chemist who had been doing light shows and working for Shell Oil. Foster's was the brilliant mind that created no-pest strips.

"Then I started hearing about some of his other inventions," Allen said. "I said, 'Hold on, these are pretty incredible.'

"It's magic," Foster said. "So was radio in it's time, so was television."

"I had a sense when I first got into holography that someone needed to sit on the fence," Allen said. "The geniuses were kind of eccentric, and the businessmen were pretty straight."

He and Foster developed a partnership that year to work on optics, and they ended up making early variable-ratio anamorphic lenses, "like cinemascope lenses, but adjustable," which didn't attract much attention. In the process of doing that, they ended up in holography because they realized there was a bigger market.

Then they created the technology for a flat telescope, for which they got the basic patent rights, but not much interest. The phrenel lenses on backs of vans? Those people were actually trying to develop flat telescopes, said Allen, but, "they never did. Now, Allen said, "Dupont and Polaroid are starting to get into it."

Allen lives in San Rafael with a girlfriend who doesn't mind the time he spends traveling and networking.

"Holography, that's totally my life," Allen said. "She's known that from the beginning.

"It's a medium, you can't stop a medium," said Allen, who is doing four shows this year.

Next up for Allen? Robotics and virtual realities, where you can put on sensor gloves and a head set and picture yourself flying.

That idea is just starting to take off in the Bay area, and Allen wants to be in front of the parade.